Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Battleground

"You won't get anywhere until you actually start!"  urged Mr Logical.
"Just begin with something small, which you can accomplish" advised Captain Sensible.
"Rome wasn't built in a day!" chimed Miss Cliche.

But then my ears became tuned to a different set of voices…

"The whole idea is totally ridiculous!"  rubbished Mr Negative
"You know it is going to be YOU who has to so ALL the work AND everything else on top!" said Miss Discouragement.
"If it is such a good idea, why is it such hard work?" asked Ms Cynic
"Why bother" questioned Miss Waste-of-time
"Are you really sure this is what God wants you to do?" whispered Mr Sneaky Seeds-of-Doubt.

The battle raged, my stress levels rose, and nothing was accomplished.  For the voices of the world won that particular battle. And it hurt.

The peace that eluded me on Wednesday, snuck back overnight when I wasn't looking.  It crept back while I slept and soothed the irritability that had left me feeling at odds with myself and the world.  Having been alienated by my failure to begin to tackle the endless task before me.

Today, has been a phoney war.  
No warning shots across the brow. 
No anguished ambush.
No tactical threats.
Mind you, no progress made either...

Tomorrow is another day.
I have no idea on what battlefield the war will be fought, but I will stay focused, and not listen to the destructive voices, that long to encase me in fear and disillusionment, effectively insulating me from the hope joy and peace and love I long for…But I have named and shamed the thoughts that sought to derail me.  I have not just acknowledged them, I have looked them in the eye and said, I know your game, but I chose whether or not I play. :)

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Surprised By Joy

"Are you nervous?" 
"You must be very excited!"
"Not really. There is so much going on that it feels like I am just fitting it on Saturday afternoon…"

We arrive in the cathedral as the scratch choir are taking their places for rehearsal - they are the Church of England equivalent to a flash mob, except for the surprise element... Glorious harmonies fill the air, soaring ever upwards into the sacred space, and a tiny part of me hopes that they will spontaneously break into "I will follow him" at the end of the service, complete with all the dance moves…

Coffee and a catch up with some of last years 'graduates'.  It was very encouraging to hear that there is life after training!  Two fantastic years are drawing to a close,  during which I have learnt so much and as a group we have gelled, and grown to appreciate each others strengths and idiosyncrasies.  However, the prospect of life beyond assignments and homework is very appealing….

John Green appears, bearing details of his latest mishap - I am so glad he was chosen to come to lead our quiet day and speak at our licensing.  He is a wonderfully humble man, who has suffered much, but his faith shines out through the cracks where life has cut and bruised him.  A man who has faced and overcome many challenges, and still serves his Lord.

Too soon it was time to don our robes - will we ever see each other dressed in such radiant whiteness again?  We make our way to the John Chapel where, in the presence of Bishops, and other members of the clergy hierarchy, we take our oaths, before joining the throng of Readers, who have come to for their Renewal of Commitment. We line up ready to process and stand before the great and the good.

The organ heralds the opening hymn, the voices of the faithful gathered, respond.  Forward we go.  Faces familiar and unfamiliar pass by as we lead a procession worthy in magnitude of the Court of King Caractacus.  Glorious sunshine streams through leaded windows, and nothing matters, as we walk down the aisle to take our allotted places.

We stand, we listen, we kneel, we speak, we sing, we pray, we smile, we turn, we sit, we receive.  Peace, joy and hope floods through me.  The service plan so carefully crafted has life breathed into it by the Holy Spirit, and the theoretical is transformed into the actual and the spiritual.

Soon we are parading out for our images to be captured in the Cloisters, before rejoining our supporters in the Chapter House.  

What has changed, apart from acquiring a set of long robes, a Bible from the Bishop and a certificate?  
Am I suddenly transformed into a spiritual superhero?
Will sermons suddenly flow from my finger tips, neatly with three points, a beginning AND a recognisable conclusion, instead of the current tangled jumble of half-formed thoughts that require teasing out by prayer, and putting into context by background reading?
Will I be able to heal the lame, convert the apathetic, pray without changing tense, avoid putting my foot in it AND use apostrophes correctly?

Who knows :)  All I  know is that I am a work in progress, authorised by the Bishop to serve my church.  God has chosen me, despite my flaws, and he is trusting me to allow myself to let His light shine out in my life, through my vulnerability and imperfections to His glory, not mine.  

(Photo by Sam Setchell, Communications Officer for the Diocese of Worcester)

Friday, 20 June 2014

On The Cusp

Cusp is a word that somehow eluded me for many years.
Maybe I just conveniently put my fingers in my ears overtime it was mentioned.  
or possibly it had no place in the Mills & Boon novels I could devour in under an hour.  No need of subtlety there! 

I first became aware of the word when we started looking into getting a statement for my daughter. Shortly afterwards it was mentioned in relation to teeth. It just dropped into conversation, all casual like,  but I noted the ripples spreading outwards - it's that cusp again I thought.  The more I looked, the more cusps appeared.  I appeared to be on the cusp of cusps in all their mystical nuances...

Here I am enjoying my very own cusp, about to transition between two states - Authorised Lay Minister and Licensed Lay Minister.
The difference is subtle.
Subtle in that it gives me permissions that matter only to the Church of England.
Subtle in that I remain part of the laity.
Subtle in the ways that the role will develop and evolve.

How do I define my cusp?
Confidence, in my training - in being able to use the tools I have been given.
Unworthiness - why me?  There must have been someone more suitable!
Seriousness - this is not a task I have taken lightly. Many are the agonies I have suffered on the way.
Plod-ability. I am no genius.  In order to produce the goods I have to spend time in prayer and study, and just keep plod, plod, plodding, until I can see what I hope it is that God wants me to see.  Not for me the instant flashes of brilliance, instead the slow painful peeling away of layers, until I begin to understand the truth concealed within.
I never expected my own cusp, but I cannot let it pass by without acknowledgement. 
I shall trust in my cusp and my God.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Failing To Find Utopia

When I was younger I used to sit on my bed, enjoying the evening sunshine reading bulky novels that would absorb me in their world.  Periodically, as I turned a page, I would watch wistfully as the sun disppeared over the ridge, and vow that one day I would live on the other side and sunny evenings would not be cut short by mere contours.

For the last fourteen years, five months and five days I have lived on the west side of the ridge.  I know precisely how long it is, because my daughter and I worked it out yesterday.  She asked how long we had lived in this house, for she wanted to quantify to her understanding of eternity.  The answer I gave did not match her expectation. A recalculation was requested, as it was expected that the answer must be greater that 15 years and three months.  If the answer does not meet the expectation, then the calculation must be at fault, not the expectation.  But despite her longing, the answer could not provide the permanency she desired and instead revealed an unexpected vulnerability.  A reminder that this is NOT the only house that has been her home.  Therefore, it is also possible that she might not always live here.  Her logic being that if she had alway lived here, then this would continue and could not change.

My living room, with it's large bay window, faces west, perfectly positioned to direct the post meridian rays to a place where I may sit and read and contemplate, just as I desired to do many years ago.  But while the ridge no longer conceals the setting sun, the roof off the house opposite serves a similar purpose and I am forced to recognise that Utopia does not exist west of the ridge.  

The words I read are no longer long and complex novels, which absorb me into their world.  Instead I find myself either tearing my hair out over matters theological, or engaged in social networking in a way that no science fiction could have prepared me for. Sadly sat at my desk in a room that faces east...

I love the evening light - the nuances of shading against darkened silhouettes - the outrageous colours - crimson, gold, purple, orange.  Yet, I do not want this time to end and within me there stirs the desire to chase after the setting sun, and to be forever in the splendour of that moment.  I have no desire for the day to end, and for darkness to defeat the day. Instead I want to journey on for ever westwards, conveniently forgetting that the wise men came from the east...

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A Call Like Paul's?

The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely.  Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.  About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. Acts 16:22-26
I want an easy life, 
not a sleazy life,
or a crawling-on-my-hands-and-kneesy sort of life.

I'm happy singing hymns, in a comfortable place,
with a steady beat of bass.
Not a cold and depressing space,

when the chains are rubbing raw,
and my wounds are so sore,
and I sit on a stone floor.

I don't deserve to be falsely accused!
Or to be physically and verbally abused
and have my rights and freedom refused.

But that's what happened to Paul,
(formerly known as Saul)
and I see there was a purpose to it all.

Can't I choose an easier sort of path,
avoiding others wrath
Is it really to much to ask?

Of me, or of you?

Lord, when the earthquake rumbles,
and my world tumbles
with a loud sound.
Despite my fear and pain
Let me be singing hymns again
and join in the celestial refrain
That the angels sing 

And remember the cost
is to save the lost.

Monday, 9 June 2014

When Life Doesn't Go On

Recently we have started ringing again at Ipsley.  Until 15 years ago, ringing was a regular part of my life, but then the band which had been badly fractured by events beyond their control, gradually drifted away - university, jobs, old age, and in my case the birth of my daughter, were the exuses we needed to close a chapter in our lives and move on.

Over the years many of us had migrated to the daughter church and became heavily involved there.  A remnant of the old band were invited to ring to mark the Millennium, and that as it.  In time a new band was formed, who I gather rang West Country style call changes, and the old band was forgotten.  This band, too, in time faded away.

When I was out and about on my travels I would sometimes hear bells ringing, and this would trigger memories of the enjoyment and fulfilment I had gained. But I did not enter any tower and offer my service, fearful that time would have made a mockery of my previous talents.How much have I forgotten?  Can you lose a skill you practised for 25 years?

As the churches in the parish developed their individual identities they diversified theologically. Joint events became fewer and fewer. On the odd occasion I attended the parish church, the ropes were visible through the glass screen, but the ropes did not move, and no sound came forth from lofty louvers.

After various conversations it was agreed that the time was right to restart ringing, and following a meeting with the Wardens and Rector, we decided to investigate involvement with the association.  I browsed the association website and found a contact for our branch secretary.  Reading through some minutes from the Central Committeel, I realised with great sadness that 2 stalwarts of the branch had died last year.  They were both very proficient ringers who had rung together for many years and were, I imagine, of a similar age.  Their personalities were very different - one calm, reserved and unflappable, the other with a cheeky grin, the ability to deliver perfect placed and perceptive one liners and a refusal to give up on any touch that had gone pear shaped.  

As we go through life, we move on, but imagine that life is continuing, as before, in the circles we have left.  The realisation that for some "stand" has been called for the last time, provides us with an unwelcome reminder of our own mortality.  Rest in peace, fellow ringers, and thank you for the welcome and encouragement we were given by all when Ipsley transferred from the more urban Northern Branch to the more rural Southern Branch. 

Monday, 2 June 2014

Following Aeron

Last Monday we walked from Lancheraron to Aberaeron, down the valley alongside the River Aeron to the sea. 

We took the more difficult route on the way down, which included the negotiation of many stiles and a field of curious cows. 

 I am not good with stiles or cows, or stiles leading to cows....

but we were rewarded with a peaceful walk, where few others trod, birds and butterflies abounded,

 and it felt like time had stood still, as we walked this ancient pathway, where generations of feet have trodden before us.  

Hopefully generations of discerning walkers will still seek out this more demanding route.

We were walking parallel to the main route which followed an old railway line.  No stiles, steps, gateways, boggy fields and fallen trees to halt their incessant progress.  Through the trees we could see and hear an endless parade of cyclists and walkers, and were glad that we had chosen the quieter, less popular route, even if it meant that at times we were walking through mud and another similar coloured semi-solid substance…

Arriving in the town, a lady kindly directed us through the park into the heart of the town. We ate our sandwiches over looking the entrance to the harbour - the take away coffee was much appreciated.  Thank you to the lady in the information centre who advised us where we could obtain that. 

We returned along the flatter, obstacle free, easier and substantially quicker route. 

Pausing frequently to admire the river, or peer over interesting looking gates.  Five miles may seem like a walk in the park to those of a more energetic nature, but for us it was a delightful way to spend a day.

It is interesting to reflect on the differences between the two paths. Both took us to our destination, but gave us different experiences.  Neither was right, nor wrong.  How often do we beat ourselves up over the choice of path we take, only to find that God guided us to the place where he wanted us to be.  Some routes are clearly wrong, but sometimes God gives us a choice between several equally valid options.  What we need is the discernment to know the difference!